Thursday, December 17, 2015

Violence in America

 Violence has always been with us.
Cain killed Abel. Lions kill gazelles. Israelites killed the Canaanites and the Romans threw Christians to the lions. Crusaders murdered Saracens and even Christians that they mistook for Saracens.  Hitler murdered Jews and Stalin murdered Ukrainians.  Pol Pot murdered 80% of his own population and Hutus with machetes murdered Tutsis, or was it the other way around.
Those are just the atrocities that pop into my head. There are thousands of others. Sad to say, but supposed Christians have committed more than their share.   America is unfortunately a country started by violent people, including soldiers of fortune and England’s prisoners.  American conquered the Indian nations and defeated the British, twice.  We have been engaged in more foreign wars than I care to count.
When guns are used we hear an outcry for more “reasonable” gun control, reasonable meaning “Do it my way.”  This is followed shortly by a scheme that will not work, and a public scramble to buy more guns. Then both sides cherry pick data to prove that more guns = more/less violence.  Did prohibition eliminate whiskey?
You can find peaceful cultures with lots of guns, Switzerland, Vermont.  You can find violent places with very strict gun laws, Venezuela, Washington DC.  It is way more complicated than that.  There was violence long before there were guns.  Cain slew Abel.
One thing has changed recently, the 24 hour news cycle.  It took 50 years for the Gunfight At The OK Corral to make it into the national consciousness (Wikipedia).  Some murders were never reported, at all.  Now a “mass shooting” is on everyone’s lips before the smoke clears.  Debated, defended, sliced and diced on the evening and morning news ad nauseam, by pundits, who are no more qualified than you are.
There are reported to be 300 million guns in the US, it might be a lot more, nobody really knows. Suppose we could make them all disappear.  Nature abhors a vacuum. How long before someone imported another?  How long before someone made another?  In Afghanistan village blacksmiths hand-made copies of British .308 Enfield rifles that were almost indistinguishable from the original. Then they learned to make AK47’s too.  When guns are outlawed outlaws still have guns.  How long before bullies terrorize their neighbors?
It’s been said that God made men and Sam Colt made them equal.  The inquisition did not need guns. The Samurai ruled Japan with a cruel iron fist holding a steel sword.  The Portuguese introduced the harquebus, a crude firearm and the people threw off the yoke. (National Geographic).
The second Amendment was intended to retain with the people the power to revolt in order to prevent an overzealous government from becoming oppressive. (Federalist Papers).    Some argue that that concept is obsolete because they did not anticipate assault rifles, tanks and aircraft.  The colonists Pennsylvania rifle was infinitely superior to the military musket of the time, with it they defeated the most powerful well-armed military machine the world had ever known.  The Mujahedeen kicked the modern Russian Army and Air Force out of Afghanistan.
The USA has not been invaded by foreign forces in 200 years.  One legend has it that Admiral Yamamoto was asked why after Pearl Harbor he did not invade.  He supposedly said “There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”
Let’s move on.  Absent firearms there are many ways to perpetrate violence, knives, garden implements, “Lizzie Borden took an ax…)”, explosives, gas, clubs, spears, poison, screwdrivers, frying pans, fire, garrotes, clubs, spears, broken glass, acid, germs, sticks and stones, bare hands.
There is also convincing evidence that gun owners prevent many, many crimes, without firing a shot, or creating a report.
What can we do?
One mass shooter was talked down by school teacher Antoinette Tuffl.  He put his gun down and surrendered to her before the police arrived.  So it does not take a good man with a gun to stop a bad man with a gun.  She was not the only one.  There is a start: every manager of a place where people gather should be taught hostage negotiating skills: Principals, Mall Managers, Theater Managers, and come to think of it Police Sergeants.  Shooting the perpetrator to ribands may save the cost of a trial, but it deprives us of the opportunity to learn what makes them tick. A problem well defined is half solved.  As long as they are talking, or listening they are probably not shooting.
DE-ESCALATE THE FIREPOWER:  When the police can be expected show up looking like an Armored Division the perpetrators tend to equip themselves accordingly.  LA invented the SWAT to deal with unique big city situations, but does Dogpatch really need one too?  Did it really take 380 rounds to disable two San Bernardino perpetrators, or 18 in the back a teenage boy?
TONE DOWN THE RHETORIC:  Just call them perpetrators or criminals until there is distinct evidence that they are something more.  Minimize the hyperbole.  Minimize the inflammatory adjectives.  More coverage begets more copycats.  Quit interviewing hysterical witnesses on the air.  “No comment at this time” is an acceptable response from law enforcement at the scene.  Do not instantly analyze complex situations.  Newsroom mantra “If it bleeds it leads” because “Nobody was shot today” does not attract eyeballs.
LEAVE RELIGION OUT OF IT:  We seldom hear the religion of a perpetrator unless he looks different.  Besides that, of 355 mass shootings only 1 or 2 were the perpetrators Muslim.
DON’T ATTEMPT TO SENSOR: Let the crazies expose their own asininities.  Most people know crazy when they hear it as long as responsible media don’t give it too much credence.
LEARN PATIENCE: Violent response makes violence acceptable.  Does the perpetrator really need to be handcuffed or dead before shift change?  If the perp can be isolated, wait him out.  If he is in an enclosed space consider pumping in odorless colorless nitrogen gas with 10% oxygen.  The low oxygen concentration will make everyone sleepy.  Airline pilots know they can settle unruly passengers by lowering the cabin pressure.

Some things will take longer.

INCARCERATE LESS: The urge to solve problems by incarceration has gotten out of control.  In Biblical times there were few alternatives, death, torture, disfigurement or exile.  Incarceration and exile have the sole advantage of being reversible.  Exile unfortunately just passes the problem to a neighbor, and is hard to enforce.  It fell out of fashion.  Death, torture, disfigurement are irreversible and disturb modern sensitivity.  Torture, disfigurement, and incarceration stigmatize the offender for life, and often his family too.  There are some criminals that cannot be allowed to mingle with free society but we need to learn how to identify them, and isolate them from the general population. 
Incarceration creates an underclass of frustrated desensitized individuals who may never make the readjustment to normal social living.  Incarceration seldom rehabilitates.  The recidivism is 80%.  Prison has become criminal academy.  The skill set to survive in jail is totally inverted compared to the skills needed in free society.  Short term highly disciplined boot-camp seems productive for first offenders provided there is some education too.  Lock ‘em up, forget about ‘em and then drop them back in society with no new skills, a bad attitude and a stigma is not working.  And it is expensive, very expensive.
EDUCATION:  It cost more to imprison an adult for one year than to provide someone a K-12 education, some say a college education.  Young minds are malleable, as the twig is bent… There is pretty strong evidence that pre-kindergarten has lifetime benefits not just to the pupil, but to society.  This is the opportunity to instill commonly held values that the small child’s parent, or foster parent, or peers do not know how to teach.  A time to identify emotional problems and provide counselling, not punishment
DESTYGMATIZE EMOTIONAL HISTORY:  Obviously we do not what the deranged running about with deadly weapons, not guns, not anthrax.  Unfortunately we still have a lot to learn about who is dangerous and who is merely distraught.  Better access to mental health counselling would help.  The Catholic Confessional and the neighborhood bartender come to mind.  Could we have a public confessional, anonymous advice line?  Some people can de-stress talking to their dog, or goldfish.  We need to separate that from the chronic or intense emotional dysfunction that leads to atrocities.  That is going to be hard to learn if we keep shredding the perpetrators instead of analyzing them.
END THE WAR ON THE POOR: For example, if a person is fined for an offense it should be equally painful no matter whom the offender is, but it's not. If the immigrant laborer is fined $55 for a parking violation that is a day’s take home pay.  His kids might not eat.  To the Wall Street trader, that's just one less imported cigar, in the humidor, no big deal.  If traffic fines were based on value of the vehicle it would more closely resemble ability to pay, be less onerous on the poor and be more effective against some well-funded abusers.  What if a fine was "An hour’s income", or “A day’s income”?
   "Thirty dollars or thirty days" is catastrophic to the dish washer, insignificant to the trader.  This is just one of dozens of examples at 
Inability to pay a fine can lead to a bigger fine, and possible incarceration and a broken family.  We need alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.  We need better ways to insure court appearance than bail or jail.
End the practice of depending on fines for a significant portion of budget.  When law enforcement is motivated to collect fines it becomes a form of random taxation that tends to fall hardest on those least able to pay.  When the money from fines goes into the same pocket that pays the Police and the Court there is a risky incentive.  It is not unlike the tax farming that brought about the French revolution.  Fine income needs to be completely divorced from those issuing or collecting the penalty.
END THE WAR ON DRUGS:  It is an abysmal failure.
It has not accomplished any of its official goals, and instead has been a bonus to the criminal / incarceration complex.  When drugs are outlawed, outlaws have drugs. It penalizes people for normal behavior and benefits criminals, especially organized crime.   The most powerful political organization in our largest state is the prison guards union.
Reefer madness hysteria led to draconian Rockefeller laws that threw thousands in jail for victimless crimes.  The flawed hypothesis was that drug use made people commit crimes.
In reality it was the high price of illegal drugs that motivated crimes.  Still is.  Most (not all) druggies are passive when high.  The worst sin is that every prisoner represents a broken family. Wives without husbands, children without fathers, stigma transferred from incarcerated member to siblings.  Not only do the accused go to prison, their innocent families may lose jobs, education, housing or benefits through no fault of their own.
In some jurisdictions out of control police, trying to look effective, round up marginal people and accuse them of drug crimes.  Ambitious prosecutors abuse plea bargains to improve their conviction ratio and further their career at the expense of people who cannot afford proper representation.  A felony conviction looks more impressive and the accused goes to state prison instead of local jail.  This spares the county the cost of incarceration.  Mayors and Judges go along because they need to be “tough on crime” to get reelected.  We need judges with the fortitude to nullify laws obviously designed solely to generate fines for the revenue.
 YES we have to fight crime and terrorists, but not at the expense of terrorizing ourselves.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Speed limit fallacy


It seems reasonable to assume that driving slower is safer.  After all if you are not moving, you can’t crash.  You will never get anywhere either, and you can still be crashed into.  While it is true that driving slower reduces severity of accidents there is no evidence that it reliably prevents them.  Most fatal accidents happen at below 35mph!  This is simply because most driving time is spent below 35mph, in locations where collisions are likely to occur, like urban intersections.  On the other hand when all vehicles are going in the same direction at the same speed, as in a tunnel, they cannot collide.  If they do get a little out of sync and collide the severity is reduced.  This is the rationale to build limited access divided highways. The safest situation on traditional roads is to discipline traffic so that the difference in speed among vehicles is minimized.  This can be done two ways.  Draconian enforcement or rational speed limits.  Unfortunately there are not enough police or courts to make the former viable, unless we want to give the police shoot on sight authority, but that has problems of its own.   

It is widely believed that no matter what speed limit is posted most people will cheat by 5 to 10 miles per hour.  Many people also think the police will give them 5 mph or 10% grace. Neither is true.  It has been scientifically established that if there is no posted limit on a highway 85% of the drivers will drive at a safe and reasonable speed for the conditions.  The traffic will thus be self disciplined and inherently safer.  More than half will be within a 10 mph range of speed, with many going slower for personal reasons, and a few going a little faster.  Of course there will be a small number going outrageously faster.  These are the ones enforcement should be concentrated on.  Unfortunately enforcement creates revenue and that can become the motivation for increased enforcement activity.

Untrained politicians and bureaucrats believe in the fallacy, and given the chance almost always decide to post the speed limit 5 to 10mph less than good traffic engineering dictates, 10mph slower that they themselves do drive on the same roadway.  When their prophesy comes true, their solution is to lower the limit by another 5mph.  This has almost no discernible effect on the maximum speed. Instead the traffic gets more chaotic and dangerous, because while small percentage will rigorously obey, the crazies (habitual speeders) will try to drive as fast as ever.  The rigorously obedient will frustrate not only the crazies, but many otherwise safe drivers, who will now tailgate (follow unsafely close) and be tempted to pass unsafely.  A driver who might feel safe driving 55 on a certain highway will probably not take many chances to pass one driving 50, but as the speed of the impediment decreases the willingness to pass increases.  As the motivation to pass increases the conditions under which a driver will attempt to pass deteriorate.  Almost no one would hesitate to pass a farm tractor going 7mph.

Another problem is boredom.  Bored drivers minds may wander or they may get drowsy.  I don't think anyone in a race ever fell asleep at the wheel, but it is  a real hazard on long boring tips at speeds that require more attention to the speedometer than the road.

On a highway the grouping of traffic can be observed.  The slower a vehicle is travelling the closer the following traffic will be, disproportionately closer.  Likewise the frustration and risk tolerance of the following drivers will increase.  On a narrow highway for example a car travelling at 35 will accumulate a large number of cars behind it, with at least one obviously tailgating.  A car travelling at 45 will have fewer cars following, with hardly anyone tailgating.  A driver at 55 will probably have none behind him, until he overtakes one of the slower drivers above.  Too-low speed limits decrease safety.

Friday, November 20, 2015



Or “governments lie”, the expressions are like yin and yang.  For twenty years the governments and all the self appointed safety Nazis told us the lower speed limit was saving lives.  When raising the speed limit to 65 on rural interstate highways in many states lowered the accident rate in those states, we were told oafishly, I mean officially, that the number of accidents on the rural interstates had increased.  Never mind that the traffic had increased twice as much as the accidents, or that statewide the accidents went down.  Governments lie, all governments.
Government also told us that raising the speed limit would not get us to our destination any faster.  American Association of State Highway and Traffic Officials claims a freeway carries the greatest number of cars past a given point at 30, that’s right 30, mph.  When the freeway speed limit was raised from 55 to 65mph the time from my house to the regional airport decreased from 3 hours to 2!
They ignored an important factor.  The faster traffic moves, the less time a given vehicle is on the highway.  If each vehicle spends less time on the highway, there are fewer vehicles on the highway at one time, and they all move even faster.

Government told us “Three Strikes and you're out” would be a mistake, the courts and the jails would overflow if we actually prosecuted felony repeat offenders and made them stay in jail.  The papers were full of anecdotal evidence.  Guess what, crime went down, the courts are getting caught up and the jails are doing as well as ever.  Government lies.  We were already putting repeat offenders in jail for life; we were just doing it on the installment plan.  We were giving the scum a new trial (at tremendous expense) every three to five years instead of just three times. Government insisted on ignoring the obvious:  Criminals can’t commit more crimes when they are locked up, and 80% of the crime is done by 20% of the criminals.  More crime is good for the police; more crime means bigger budgets.  Unfortunately over zealous prosecutors have used three strikes and War on Drugs hysteria to over fill the jails with basically harmless citizens. More crime is good for politics; it gives lots of speech material.  More crime sells newspapers and increases television viewing too.  Everyone benefits from more crime, except the citizens, but who looks out for them? Of course never willing to let a sleeping dog lie, governments started charging everything as a violent felony and simple possession of marijuana earned a life sentence.
Several states have passed laws allowing any honest citizen to obtain a concealed weapon permit.  Politicians predicted carnage and tell anecdotes about individual incidents.  Homicides went down in those states (39 states at last count). Governments lie.
We all expect politicians to lie to get elected, why do we think they will stop once in office.  It’s a lot easier to find or make up a problem to make a speech about, than it is to actually solve a real problem.  Government lies.
 “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”   (H.L. Mencken) 

The more frightening and less real the hobgoblin, the better.

Sometimes the government avoids lying by simply distorting language to the point where it is unrecognizable.  A fire becomes “rapid oxidation” (accelerated rusting?).  Airplanes don’t crash they “experience rapid energetic disassembly due to uncontrolled flight into terrain resulting from pilot induced instability.”  War is not war; it is “armed conflict.”  This becomes such a habit that it carries over into non-controversial items.  A shovel becomes a”combat emplacement evacuation device.”

Why do governments lie?  They lie because government is about governance, the exercise of power.
 “Government is not reason or eloquence, it is force...” (George Washington)

Those in power do whatever it takes to stay in power and increase that power.  So since lying is the easy way, lying is what they do.  When the liar is a foreign power, we call it propaganda.  When the liar is a dead religious leader we call it miracles.  When the liar is one of our beloved politicians we call it business as usual.
Governments rise to make laws, once empowered they become addicted and cannot stop themselves.  Laws appear for no visible reason except that someone has the power to make laws and makes a law that benefits him, or those who can in turn benefit him in one situation with no regard for how it affects everyone else.
The love of power causes all social organizations (governments, corporations, churches, and families) to deteriorate to a feudal structure; the most power hungry, ambitious, ruthless, s.o.b. rises to the top, those next in line suck up, and so on down the line.  Democracy merely tempers the way that people accrue power, so the succession is more orderly, and less bloody.  We get elected instead of assassinating the incumbent.  Nevertheless power still accrues, not to those best able to serve mankind, but to those best able to grab it, the glibbest liars.  This is why we have a class of politicians.  Their talent is not their ability, just their elect-ability.  Why, for example, would we assume that someone who makes a good legislator, if there is such a critter, would make a good governor?  This makes only a little more sense than the old notion that the best warrior made the best king.

Today most politicians in America favor gun control. Why?  Because, an armed populace reduces government’s power.   The second amendment is about the people’s right to arm themselves in order to protect themselves.  Protect themselves from whom you ask.  Well, from rapists, robbers, muggers, murderers, looters, child molesters, gang bangers and all the other criminals that the police would like us to think they protect us from, but admit they cannot.  It is also about the people’s right to protect themselves from overzealous police officers who break down the wrong door and overzealous government in general.  Did you ever notice that while police chiefs (politicians) are consistently in favor of “gun control” police officers will often advise those with legitimate fear to “Get a gun, and learn how to use it”?
The first thing any dictator does upon seizing power is take over the broadcast stations, smash the printing presses and then go house to house confiscating guns.  The scary part is it’s happening here.  The Campaign Finance Reform act among other things puts a muzzle on independent publications. Do you think that is for the peoples benefit?   No, the thing that all politicians, especially dictators fear is dilution of their power.  All politicians are power motivated, and fear more than anything else, including foreign invasion, an empowered populace, whether the empowerment comes from guns, or truth. 
Ironically the ballistophobic pundits, almost universally in favor of “gun control”, are encouraging would be dictators to do it in the reverse order.  First they came for the guns, but I was not a gun owner, so I did not speak out.  Then they came for the transmitters, but I was not a transmitter owner, so I did not speak out.  Then the came for the printing presses, but I was not a printing press owner, so I did not speak out....
It’s the same way with cars.  Henry Ford did more for the common man than all the political “leaders”' in history put together.  He gave us personal mobility, the ability to “vote with our feet.” at 35 mph, and bring along the family.  Politicians on the other hand feel compelled to restrict the use of cars, or add absurd requirements like arbitrary speed limits, bike lanes at the expense of traffic lanes, or zero emissions.  Why?  Because a man with a car, like a man with a gun, is a free man; he can go where he wants, when he wants, without the government’s permission, and politicians, no matter how they achieved their position of power cannot stand that.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Who benefits

I now see the error of my ways.  I thought of the war on drugs as pointless and ineffective. I now see it as perfect for what it is intended to do. Look what would happen if we ended the war. 
We have built the world’s largest prison system; we have to keep it and all the people and contractors it employs busy.  What would we do with all those people warehoused in prison?  Would they join the ranks of the unemployed, or become just be petty criminals?  In addition to prisons we have courts, judges and their other employees that depend on the jobs it creates.
 Without low level drug users to plea bargain prosecutors would have to work much harder to maintain their important win/lose ratio.  Thousands of defense lawyers depend on the drug trials for easily earned income with no remorse for failure 
Police at every level from local departments to FBI have become dependent on the opportunities it provides, advancement, excitement, publicity, overtime, free drugs, bigger budgets and the assets that civil forfeiture provides: cars, boats, aircraft, electronics, weapons, and cash. 
The small arms industry depends on equipment, gun and ammunition sales to police and organized crime to stay in business and employ thousands of people.
The economies of several countries, and counties in the US, are dependent on the high prices they get for crops that produce an illegal product. What will they do when cocaine and marijuana bring the same price as oregano and tobacco?  Legal drugs would deprive independent vendors of a major source of tax free income.
All the hoopla about illegal drugs distracts people from the tobacco and alcohol industries, and the pervasive and harmful effects of their products. Constant news coverage of the War pushes news about the harmful effects of alcohol and tobacco off the front page.  Celebrity scandals about illegal drug usage are almost as interesting as sex.  Rehab is so much more newsworthy when it is paralleled with a threat of jail time. 
Pharmaceutical companies can justify the high prices of their mass produced product on the comparably high price of street drugs.  How could oxycodone compete with legal codeine or even safer, more effective marijuana?  Hundreds of chemists, now busy designing drugs (prescription and illegal) around the controlled substances act would be redundant. 
The drug test industry employs thousands.  Employers need a simple reason to reject minority applicants "You failed the drug test".  Since marijuana usage is somewhere between 50 and 80% and can be detected for months, this is almost always credible, and impossible to rebut, although meaningless. 
Political contributions from all those with vested interest in the drug war would stop, then what would all the campaign service providers do without the Mothers-milk of politics?  War of any kind provides speech material for polidioticians, “We need to work harder, we're seeing the light the end of the tunnel, can't stop now.”  Gets more votes than, “300 million Americans are quietly behaving themselves.” 
In fewer words, the war on drugs has so thoroughly pervaded our culture that we, or at least our ruling class, can't live without it any more than they could live without their own hypocrisy. It is a small part of the basis of popular politics: keep the public alarmed with an endless series of boogie-men preferably imaginary, or manufactured as necessary to the needs, of the reelection cycle.

The War on Drugs has taken combat mentality into the streets of America. We need to end the insanity by decriminalizing things that really have no business being crimes in the first place, drugs, prostitution, homosexuality, and half the vehicle code.

Friday, August 14, 2015



A lot of cases require witnesses whose English language skills are weak, or non-existent.  The obvious remedy is a translator.  The flaw is that translation is not always accurate, especially simultaneous translation. This may be why diplomacy is so futile.  Languages are idiomatic. Groups of words do not mean the same thing as their literal translation. Consider, “He is used to cream in his coffee.” Versus “A wrench is used to tighten nut”   Translation is so difficult that in both World Wars the U.S. used Native Americans speaking in their Native language to baffle enemy intelligence.
In W.W.I General Pershing suspected that the Germans had tapped his telephone lines, and broken the codes.  He assigned Ojibwa Indians to transmit telephone messages in the Ojibwa language.  The Germans officers did not speak Ojibwa and did not catch on.  The only problem was that too many military terms did not have an Ojibwa equivalent.
In W.W.II the effort was much more organized.  Radio voice communication was efficient, but not secure.  Encryption was secure most of the time, but painfully tedious.  Hundreds of Navajo were organized as Code Talkers.  They made up codes within their language for military terms and other critical words.  Various airplanes, for example took on the names of birds; ships, fish etc.  None of the code was written down, but instead was passed on through oral methods similar to those traditions used to preserve tribal history.  A Navajo who was not initiated could not have usefully translated their messages, and none of their messages were ever understood by the Japanese.  In addition they had the distinct advantage of being simultaneously translated instead of laboriously encrypted.  What took cryptologists four hours, code talkers could do in two and a half minutes.  Sometimes the code talker could just describe what he saw without having it written then encrypted before it could be sent.
In both wars, the Code Talkers were fluent in both languages, and participating members of both cultures.
The court translator needs to be as fluent in each language as the questioners and answerers are in their individual languages, including slang, technical terms and jargon.  Usually they are not.  Fortunately lawyers always speak in plain simple grammar school English.  (Yeah right)   English has twice as many words as any other language, at least 600,000.  This is why the Navajo code talkers had to make up expressions in Navajo.  At the other extreme Pidgin, the official language of Papua New Guinea has only a few thousand.  In Pidgin for example there is no name for a piano you could say “bigpella box many teeth alla same you bang ‘em he cry out”.  A translator who learned his Pidgin where there were no pianos might not translate that as piano.  And who is to say every Pigin speaker would describe a piano the same way?
I have learned to tell from the transcript if a translator was used, even if it is not noted.  Certain words are repeatedly misused, for example door for gate, because in Spanish they are both La Puerta.  In a deposition of a Lao witness to a traffic accident the testimony became very confused about lines and lanes.  Finally the translator remarked that in the witness’s language, line and lane were the same word.  A quick thinking attorney suggested a synonym; stripe for line and the deposition proceeded smoothly.  You would think a competent translator would have noticed the problem, but, obviously, she was working by rote, as they often do because translators seldom have the technical vocabulary of the witness.
A deposition of a truck driver proceeded for an hour with the driver making repeated reference to the “tar”.  Finally one attorney said “I don't see any tar in that photo.”  The driver, from North Carolina said “thet tar” and pointed to the left front tire.
In a series of depositions regarding an accident on a tuna boat all hardware on the boat was simply “an iron.”  The Captain who spoke English referred to cleats, chocks, blocks, davits, and winches, but in the transcripts of translated depositions none of those words appear, just “iron”.  Every crewman spoke a different language, and for a long time I wondered how they communicated, and if it mattered since everything was simply an iron anyway.  If the Samoan or the Portuguese said “chock,” or the equivalent the translator did not recognize that word in that language, and asked for an explanation.  No doubt the explanation included that it was metal, so it became an “iron”.  If the Hawaiian or Mexican said cleat, it became an “iron,” and so on.  You would think the translator would have at least said “iron thing” so the ambiguity would be obvious.  
One solution would be for each party to bring their own translator to the proceeding, just as we saw with Bush and Gorbachev.  Our firm did that once in a case involving an imported forklift.  Our client’s German engineer came here for a deposition.  As a precaution we provided an engineer, who had worked in both countries and was thus fluent in engineering terminology in both cultures, to verify the translations.  After only 45 minutes the deposition was terminated because the translations were unrelated to the engineers answers.  The German-American housewife court approved translator could carry on a domestic conversation in either language, but the engineering terms meant nothing to her.  Our engineer got qualified as a court translator the next day, and the deposition was completed the following day.
I can understand this from my own experience talking to a Mexican mechanic through a translator.  We were examining a concrete pump in Mexico that had been involved in a local amputation accident.  I asked him to show me the accumulator, which the interpreter dutifully translated as accumulador.  We were met with a blank stare.  I drew the simplest of schematic sketches, an upright oval with a line sticking out of the bottom.  His face lit up he said "Oh, La bottella hydraulico,"  (the hydraulic bottle), and led me right to it.  American engineers and mechanics often say “accumulator bottle” a reasonably descriptive term.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Maybe cities, like Detroit, are obsolete. 
First there was the family, Mother and her children. Then in some cultures the dad and other relatives became part of the extended family.  This got larger and became a tribe.  Many tribes merged into a clan.  Then things got complicated, some tribes and clans merged into nations.  Other tribes formed cities.  The large cities conquered surrounding territory and became city states, often with extensive territories, empires.
Eventually modern nations, with subdivisions called states, provinces, counties and cities evolved. Unfortunately the boundaries of these subdivisions have become in many ways obsolete.  Cities on opposite banks of a river may be in different states, but have more in common with one another than they do with their home state.  Suburban residents outside a city may make more use of some city services: libraries, museums, colleges than residents within.  Some cities require critical employees to live within, even though this may be a financial or cultural hardship.  It may deprive the city of the best candidate for some jobs, like teachers and police officers.
Many cities have learned to blur the lines to improve services.  Port districts manage the entire waterfront of multiple cities.  Many utilities are based on topographic boundaries rather than political, and some school districts are based on demographic boundaries.  Regional transportation has largely replaced municipal.
Unfortunately some cities, like Detroit, appear to be locked into the city state mentality and try to be everything to everyone within the arbitrary (historic) boundary, while at the same time supporting services that benefit non-residents more than taxpayers.  With today’s information technology there is no reason for all city services to have the same boundaries.  A separate service district for each service can be designed and managed to maximize efficiency, within much larger boundaries, such as county or state.  This of course might make mayors and city councils obsolete, but I can live with that.



Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ISIS is piracy on land

We cannot defeat ISIS or Al Qaeda by thinking of it as a government. Our outmoded strategy of killing the leader is a throwback to medieval times when capturing the enemy king meant you won. But each ISIS cell is more like a pirate crew. Their leaders are more like a pirate captain, answerable only to his crew and totally dependent on booty. They have no capacity to create what they need to function. Like pirates they are funded by what they steal "liberate, confiscate, commandeer". Killing a "leader" is just a promotional opportunity for the next in line to fight over.

To fight they need to steal ordinance.  To defeat them they have to be deprived of everything they steal.  Fortunately those things are easy targets. It is easy to hide a "sheikh" in a crowd, but where do you hide a tank or howitzer in the desert?   If it is hidden, it is ineffective.  The key to defeating them, which the Saudi's seem to understand is to destroy that which they love, hardware. The threat of death is no deterrent to those who think that to die in jihad is desirable.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


I feel the last thing the Republicans want, is a Republic. Their goal seem to be an oligarchy of only Republicans in power, chosen by other invisible Republicans.
It's a system proven to sort of work, in China.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


First let me confess, I am a supporter of the TMT. As an engineer, I love challenging projects, and the advancement of science. There will be long term benefits that we cannot imagine. As Ben Franklin said when he was experimenting with electricity. He was asked what use it was. His answer applies equally to the telescope. “Of what use is a newborn baby?”

The protesters make the telescope sound enormous, but it has about the same relationship to Maunakea as the dot at the end of this sentence to the full page of a newspaper.

What I cannot understand is the Universities reluctance to give it a Hawaiian name.
I Suggested the King David Kalakaua telescope, but they will probably name it after some obscure haole astronomer.

The original mauli Hawai’i was as concerned about the stars as most cultures.  They had a special haiau for observing the stars, luakini and a specialist to interpret them, kahuna kini. Is not an observatory the natural extension? King David Kalakau seemed to think so.

To not build the telescope at this point would be a crime against the education of all humanity.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


When you board an airplane you expect to be putting your life in the hands of a professional pilot. Since he is on board with you, you expect he wants to complete the journey safely just as much as you do.
However when you board an Airbus, or Sukhoi you life is also in the hands of the programmer who designed the fly-by-wire side-stick control system. He is not on board.
The side stick can allow one pilot to make serious errors without his partner being aware. e.g. Air France 447, and probably Air Asia 8501
Every other commercial airliner builder retains the tradition mechanically linked dual yoke control system, so that both pilots know what's happening. Even a third officer in the cockpit can see instantly who is doing what.
We have more and more hybrid systems where the airplane, or automobile is partly under human control and partly automated. The Asiana 777 pilots thought the automatic throttle control was engaged. It wasn't, the plane was too slow and therefore too low.
Cars with ABS do not crash less than cars without it, because drivers do not understand the difference in driving technique. We have to consider whether to go full automation, or hybrid where humans remain in the loop but may not be competent to deal with actually controlling something with which they have no experience.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The War On The Poor

One leading cause of being poor is being born poor. Even in America. Some of the barriers are unintentional. Like limited job opportunities and higher expenses. A person in an inner city neighborhood probably lacks a Costco card, or a way to get there. He has no choice but to pay the inflated prices at the Bodega. He probably lacks a realistic role model, and unfortunately is exposed to gang influence that the better off seldom have to contend with. This can expose him to extra attention from law enforcement. Sure some poor have worked hard and succeed in spite of the disadvantage of starting out poor, but there are some barriers that look suspiciously intentional as if the slave owner mentality has not left us.

Minimized minimum wage
Business owners oppose increasing minimum wage for obviously selfish reasons that often sound a lot like slave owners opposition to freeing slaves. Many employers argue that increasing minimum wage would make them less competitive, even though their competitors would bear the same burden. Direct labor is seldom more than 10% of total business cost. Rent, capitalization, cost of goods, energy, insurance, and taxes are usually more significant factors. A Hundred years ago Henry Ford realized that well paid workers show up, don't quit, reduce training expense and can buy the product. He more than doubled factory wage from $2 a day to $5 and created the modern middle class based economy.

Funny thing about that is that increased minimum wage would increase the GDP and benefit everyone. (See Minimum Wage blog)  see:

Regressive tax structure
People pay Social Security on the first dollar earned, but not the millionth. Some investment income dollars not taxed for SSI at all. Some financial transactions are taxed the same amount whether the transaction is $10, $10,000 or$10,000,000. For example car registration fees are usually the same for a $500 beater as a $500,000 Bugatti. Some car license fees are based on weight, so the owner of a beat-up  '92 Station wagon pays twice as much as the owner of a 2015 Mini Cooper. License fees based on value, as they mostly are in California, would not be as regressive.

Sales tax, if it exempts food, sounds reasonably progressive, but what food is exempt, lobster, caviar? What food is taxed, potato chips, dollar menu take out?

Flat taxes: Head tax, poll tax; Everyone pays the same amount. Punitive to the poor, insignificant to the well off. Even so called Flat Income Tax. Everyone pays 15%, of what? Total income, Federal adjusted gross income. Fifteen percent of $20,000 a year is punitive. Fifteen percent of $200,000 a year is merely annoying, you still can live very well and vacation in Aruba.

If a person is fined for an offense it should be equally painful no matter who the offender is, but it's not. If the immigrant laborer is fined $55 for a parking violation that is a days take home pay. His kids might not eat. To the Wall Street trader, that's just one less imported cigar, in the humidor, no big deal. If traffic fines were based on value of the vehicle it would more closely resemble ability to pay, be less onerous on the poor and be more effective against some well funded abusers. What if a fine was "An hours income". "Thirty dollars or thirty days" Catastrophic to the dish washer, insignificant to the trader.

Courts treat failure-to-appear very severely. The poor unschooled in the details of the court system are more likely to get caught up in this inadvertently and subjected to fines they cannot pay, resulting in more fines for failure to pay the first one. Lawyers and Judges are accustomed to arcane language with sesquipedalian words that leave the unrepresented baffled and likely to offend without malice. The laborer faced with losing a day's pay or not making a court date may not be aware of the potential consequences.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws are far more likely to impact those who cannot afford legal representation. This makes it more difficult to comply and get out from under the legal albatross. Once convicted of  even the most inconsequential of procedural offenses the victim is stigmatized for life.

Progressive Income Tax
In theory, but the tax filing system is so complex that only those who can afford professional help get to pay the legal minimum for their income level. Oh yes there is the Earned Income Tax Credit: It exists, but the application, like everything from the IRS, is convoluted, ambiguous and just plain tricky. If you are poor enough to qualify you are not likely to be educated enough to fill out the damned form.

Then there are tax loopholes, specific deductions and credits that a few well to do people can take advantage of to reduce their effective tax rate to virtually zero.

Justice system abuse
Efforts to combat drug dealing and violent gangs often sweep up the poor who just happen to be in the path of a juggernaut. Guilt implied by association often works against the defendant. Overzealous prosecutors and judges wanting to be known as ''tough on crime" often victimize these people to improve their own statistics. The inner city teenager caught with a joint gets prosecuted. The preppy with the same quantity gets taken home to Mama. Prosecutors have been known to arrest poor people at random and shake them down for convictions. The statistic is good for one performance review period, but the arrest stigma is for life. DWB: Driving While Black.

Discriminatory laws, like 10 times the jail time for crack vs powder cocaine.

State lotteries
A tax on the mathematically challenged. If you bought every single ticket, you would be guaranteed a 50% loss. The levy is justified in most states by saying the money goes to education, then the school budget from other sources is cut by that same amount. Who buys the tickets? The working class because it gives them hope. Who benefits, Scientific Games inc. and politicians who can claim they lowered taxes. Who loses, the working poor who depend on  public education that gets short changed.

School Vouchers
Always promoted as a benefit for the poor, but mostly a subsidy for those who already have  their children in private schools that lose funding to pay for the vouchers. It cost much less to educate a child for 14 years than to imprison the adult for one.

Miscellaneous flat fees
OK tolls and parking would be hard to make progressive, but why does it cost less per square foot to park a $40 million personal jet at the airport than a family car. (I did not make this up)

Banks charge ten cents a check, and a monthly fee if the bank balance is below the required minimum for free checking. This can cause an accidental overdraft, and a penalty that can be a days minimum wage, or one cigar. Credit cards often have annual fixed fees that represent a days hard work for some, a minutes income for others, for whom they are often waived altogether.

Can we fix all of these?
Probably not, but some are obviously not in the best interest of us collectively. Raising minimum wage circulates money and boosts the economy for everyone. Universal preschool creates better student, who become better workers. Truly progressive taxes make entry level work more attractive. Filling up the jails is expensive and creates and underclass that cannot get gainful employment. Fines need to be adjusted to be equally painful therefore proportional to ability to pay, or they are discriminatory.
Prosecutors and Judges need to remember their job is not filling jails, it is to DO JUSTICE.

Friday, January 23, 2015


One thing is obvious about terrorist groups they care not for human lives. Not even their own especially not the lives of their foot soldiers. Killing a leader is just a promotion opportunity for his subordinates. They do treasure the weapons that give them superior firepower and peasants armed with farm implements are no match for AK47s. There are some schemes to reduce the supply of AKs, but it’s like fighting ants, there are always more. Fortunately some of the rifles are in other hands.

There is one weapon system that seem exclusive to terrorist organizations, popularly known a technical. Heavy machine guns mounted on pickups. These give the organization overwhelming power. Unlike an assault rifle, a technical is difficult to hide and expensive to replace. Unlike a leader a technical is difficult to disguise as just another soldier. A campaign to rid the unsettled part of the world of technicals would accomplish two things. Reduce the organizations firepower and punish them by taking away their favorite toy. Missiles, drones, bombs or gunfire can do it. Destroying them relentlessly would make merely being near the machine gun a death sentence for the intended operator, taking away their motivation.

So if a drone can find, identify and kill a specific man finding and destroying a technical ought to be really easy

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Zen of motorcycle maintainance

I used to prefer working on motorcycles to working on cars, because everything was on the outside. I have changed pistons on the side of the road with just the tools that came under the seat. Not so any more bikes have become more reliable, but also more complicated and style has replaced accessibility. Now to change a spark plug I have to remove the gas tank. To remove the gas tank I have to remove two fairings, 4 hoses and the seat. To remove the seat I have remove two side covers, and it seems like each screw takes a different tool.
To check the battery, again, I have to remove the seat.
Fortunately these have become yearly not monthly (weekly) chores,

Until recently, being a fair-to-middlin' mechanic was a prerequisite, since many bikes were not as reliable as they could have been. Many bikes literally shook themselves to pieces. It has been claimed that Locktite® was invented to hold Triumph® motorcycles together. Motorcycle mechanics were far apart and often worked on only one brand, or nationality.  Most car mechanics would have nothing to do with motorcycles. Modern motorcycles can be about as reliable as cars, but their maintenance needs often require special skills, tools or materials.


Recycling is good, reuse is better, but they are a means to achieve a goal. They should not be the goal. Otherwise we could recycle more by insisting on more wasteful packaging. Sometimes the highest and best use of surplus material is to extract the energy. Unfortunately there are some materials, like composites, that cannot be recycled, but can be burned.
The measure is not how much we recycle, but how little we consume unnecessarily.

 Charging people to discard trash in order to encourage recycling sounds like an expensive management nightmare with our dispersed population.

First let me say I support reuse/recycle but there is a recycle at any price mentality just as there is a wasteful mentality. The recycle at any price mentality leads us to pay about $140 a ton to ship low value recyclable materials to the mainland where most of it will hopefully be recycled.  On the other hand using it for fuel worth maybe $40 a ton is summarily rejected. So the actual cost is closer to $180 a ton. Then there is the environmental impact of shipping it over 2000 miles

A power plant that can convert trash to energy can also burn other waste, like garbage, the100,000 tons of green waste that is collected annually and the uncountable green waste rotting by the roadside. Hawaii used to be powered by bagasse- sugar waste. If adding burnable recyclable material to the mix can make it viable that should not be arbitrarily ruled out.

Charging people to discard trash sounds like an enforcement nightmare. Are they going to inspect everything thrown in the recycle bin?  The whole disposal issue needs to be examined on strictly health, environmental and economic issues not ideology. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Kona Community College

One of the fundamentals in economics is called Say’s law. “Availability creates demand” often paraphrased “if you build it they will come.”  UH denies the need for a Community College in Kona because there is not sufficient “student population”. How can there be a student population with no place to be a student?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Palestinian, Hawaiians and other dis...

Palestinian, Hawaiians and other disenfranchised people have some legitimate gripes and some not so legitimate ones.

Hawaiians lost the ownership of their land, but actually under the old system, the King owned the land and the kanaka were little more than serfs. The King gave some of the land to his people, many of whom who did not understand the new system were tricked into relinquishing their claims. No doubt they did not get a good deal. On the other hand compare the condition of Hawaiian people today with the rest of Polynesia. For the most part kings bled their subjects to purchase luxuries they did not need and often could not use.

Palestinians lost their land three ways. Some sold it to Zionists. Some fled Israel on the advice of other Arab politicians, who promised them restoration. Some were driven out by Israelis. Of course as soon as they left Israel the Palestinians were told "But don't come here". So they remain trapped in two tiny enclaves adjacent to Israel. If the Arab world so loves their palestinian brothers, why can't they make room for them?

Those who study history realize that the same story has two outcomes. Some disenfranchised people just can't move on and become habitual victims.  Others make the best of the hand they have been dealt and prosper. No one has been kicked around more than the Jews, but everywhere they land they are soon envied for their success. Poles survived a hundred years of non existence as a country, 80 years of Soviet domination and then emerged as one of the strongest economies in Europe.

I do not lack sympathy for the disenfranchised peoples. but it is hard to think of an ethnicity that was not conquered at some time in their history. War seems to be the natural state of humanity. You cannot un-fire the gun or turn back the clock. Even if you could it won't turn out to be the way you remember it. Romantic images of pre-conquest peoples living on perfect harmony with nature ignore the fact that many of them suffered devastating famines.

Look to the Koreans, the Germans or the Vietnamese for inspiration and get on with it.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Influential people who did not do well in school

Jesus (Carpenter)
William Penn, expelled from Christ Church, Oxford
Ben Franklin (Printers apprentice, no college) Americas first millionaire
Daniel Boone (Frontiersman)  Settled Kentucky, judge
Alfred Russel Wallace (Inspired Darwin)
Charles Darwin (Clergyman) turned biologist)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Child prodigy)
Juan Bautista DeAnza Moved 400 families safely from Monterey Mexico to CA 

George Washington (Planter)
Andrew Jackson (Farmer)
Martin Van Buren
Zachary Taylor (Soldier)
Millard Fillmore
Abraham Lincoln (Farm boy, self schooled)
US Grant (finished 21 out of 32 at West Point)
Andrew Johnson
Grover Cleveland
(Rutherford Hayes was the first college graduate president 1877)
Harry Truman (Haberdasher)

Sequoyah, illiterate blacksmith taught the Cherokee nation to write
Oliver Winchester w/ B Tyler Henry (Shirt salesman) Repeating rifles
John Hall gunsmith, truly interchangeable parts
Christopher Spencer (Repeating rifles)­
Davy Crockett (Frontiersman)  lawyer, Congressman
Samuel Colt (salesman) Revolver, “American system” of mass production­­
James Eads (Salvage Diver) Engineer- Famous Bridge, New Orleans South Pass
Thomas A. Edison (Telegraph delivery boy)
Robert Hooke (dropout) Hooke’s Law, metallurgy
William F “Buffalo Bill” Cody
Edgar Alan Poe
John Moses Browning, 128 gun patents, BAR, BMG, M1911
George Hearst (Semi Literate Miner) found “blue goo”, turned out to be silver $20million

William Randolf Hearst (Flunked out of Harvard) Publishing Empire, Fathers fortune
John C Garand  M1
Albert Einstein (Patent clerk)
Wright Brothers and their entire team (Bicycle Mechanics)
Henry Ford (Pipefitter)
Walter Gryzler (Railroad Mechanic) Chrysler
Lim PO survived 100 days on a 4’ raft in the south Atlantic with nothing but his wits
John Mulholland, LA DWP
Adolph Hitler (Corporal, House Painter)
Josep Broz Stalin (Expelled from school)
William Lear, (8th grade) car radio, Lear jet
Ferdinand Porsche (Hid in tech school balcony until caught, thrown out) VW
Dennis Weatherstone (dropout, JP Morgan director)
Suleiman Olayan (Truck driver) JP Morgan Director
Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov (soldier AK47)
Les Paul, (dropped HS to play guitar) invented electric guitar and most modern recording
Rose Blumkin (Immigrant, no school, no English, furniture chain)
Aristotle Onassis (13 year old orphan Banana Peddler) to World’s richest man, shipping
Soichiro Honda (Mechanic)
Percy Spencer(Grade school) Invented microwave oven
Barry Goldwater
Johnny Cash (Never had a music lesson), best selling album ever
Vivian Taylor Black HS grad pioneered heart surgery

Lech Walesa, (Electrician), Solidarity Union, brought down Communism
Woody Allen
Ted Turner (inherited small local billboard company)
Karl Rove
Wayne Huizenga (Garbage Man) Waste Management Inc, Blockbuster Video, Car Nation
Steven Jobs (College Dropout) Apple Computer, iPod, iPad
Steve Wozniak (College Dropout) Apple Computer
Bill Gates (Harvard Dropout)  Microsoft, Worlds richest man
Michael Dell (Built computer business while still living in dorm)
Paul (Kinko) Orfalea (Started Kinko’s copying business while still living in dorm)
Richard Branson (High school reject) Virgin Records, ~ Atlantic, ~ Fuels, ~ Galactic  etc.
Jim Sinegal (dropout) Costco
Dean Kamen, Segway and dozens of patents
Larry Ellison (dropout) Oracle
Roman Abramovich ( orphan) Gazprom
Kirk Kerkorian (dropout) TWA
Sheldon Anderson (Cab Driver) Las Vegas Sands
Mark Zuckerberg (Harvard Dropout) Facebook
Mark  Walberg, Actor
Jose Mujica Uruguay's President never finished HS
Elizabeth Holmes,  youngest self-made female billionaire 30 year old college dropout.